WELWYN-HATFIELD GRAND PRIX
Paul Curran - the Commonwealth Games road champion -put up a vintage performance to win Sunday's Welwyn-Hatfield Grand Prix and take over the lead in the season-long Star Trophy competition.
The Manchester Wheelers-Trumanns Steel rider won in the grand manner, by bridging a gap to the break, then dropping all but Gary Baker (Anglia Sport) to win the sprint comfortably.
Yet it was not so comfortable as it seemed for Curran appeared to have left it too late to get to the leaders, trailing at over three minutes with two-thirds of the race run.
He worked his way steadily through the various bunches scattered around the course, picking up passengers and time until he reached the break, left all but Baker for dead, then made amends for his disappointing Milk Race form.
The action started immediately from the gun, with Roger Dunne (Anglia Sport), Chris Young (Paragon RT), Alan Taylor (VC Nottingham) and Richard Lodge (Chiltern RC) making a break, soon to be joined by Bernie Burns (Bradford Wheelers) and Tony Wallis (GB Youth).
Dunne took the first prime -alone - up Digswell Hill, from a now 16-strong chasing bunch. Already the race was spread out over several miles due to the ferocity of that first attack.
Digswell Hill - well-known to North London time-triallists in the Fifties and Sixties, and an earlier generation of BLRC road-men - took its toll each time on the three 17-mile circuits of rolling Hertfordshire countryside.
Paul Brown (Paragon RT) got the better of Gary Baker for the rime on the second and third Laps, with Curran still to make his mark from the chasing bunch, while the laughing group appeared to be in another race.
Once on to the first of the six eight-mile circuits, the pace increased with Curran still seemingly out of it as ahead of him were a 15-man break holding a 2-53 lead over his 28-strong chasing group.
Harry Lodge (Chiltern RC) took the prime from Nick Dibble (GB Youth) and Dunne, but next time round Curran had started his pursuit. Rob Holden (Manchester Wheelers) had won the fifth lap prime from Gary Baker, while Young and Lodge led a 13-strong chasing bunch, with Curran, Tim Stevens ('34 Nomads), Andy Johnson (Sheffield RT) and Dave Woods (VC St. Raphael) making inroads.
The sixth lap saw Paul Rogers (VC St. Raphael) going clear - a position he was to hold for the next two laps. Curran had lost Johnson and Woods but retained the services of Stevens, then picked up puncture victim Baker from the chasing group.
Stevens stayed with the leading group once they and Rogers were caught, then Curran jumped away, shadowed by Baker.
From then on it was obvious what the outcome would be. Curran powered away, Baker followed and had no answer at the finish.
"Once I caught Baker he sat on," said Curran. "It was just me and Tim Stevens working. Every time I attacked, Baker was on my wheel. I think he was overgeared for the finish.
"I didn't expect the break to go that early and stay away. When the break reached over two minutes there was nothing happening in the bunch. Half wanted to work and half didn't, so I had to leave them.
"I had no big problems but nine times up the prime hill made for a tough race. I have changed my training this week and I came to the race with no confidence from the Milk Race."
Baker was pleased with his second place to Curran, but said that he had ridden on a softening tyre for the last couple of kilometres.
There were two other rides of note: the fourth place by former national cyclo-cross champion Chris Young and the 14th place by Arnold Russell of the promoting Whitewebbs CC.
Young has been showing excellent form in recent weeks and is now undecided whether to stay a roadman or go back to cyclo-cross. He rides the amateur Tour of East Switzerland as preparation for the cross season, but will probably not spend all winter in Switzerland as last year.
Russell, at 52, the oldest man in the race, complained that no-one would work with him in the bunch!
It is always difficult to put on a road race in an area so near to London, but the Whitewebbs CC managed it well and will be the first to thank the police for their co-operation, who even joined in an impromptu dance to a jazz band at the finish in Welwyn Garden City.
It was that sort of day, with crowds of club riders out enjoying the sunshine and helping swell the profits at the Red Lion on Digswell Hill.
1. PAUL CURRAN (Manchester Wh-Trumanns Steel) 100.5m
2. G. Baker (Anglia Sport) st
3. R. Holden (Manchester Wh) at 8 sec
4. C. Young (Paragon RT)
5. P. Brown (Paragon RT)
6. R. Sutton (Olympia Sport)
7. R. Machen (VC St. Raphael)
8. T. Stevens ('34 Nomads)
9. H. Lodge (Chiltern RC)
10. P. Rogers (VC St. Raphael) all st
11. R. Dunne (Anglia Sport) at 18sec
12. D. Cook (GB Youth)
13. A. Taylor (VC Nottingham) at 1-4
14. A. Russell (Whitewebbs CC)
15. R. Bradley (Olympia Sport) at 3-39
16. N. Miller (Dinnington RC)
17. N. Dunn (Ferryhill Wh)
18. T. WaIlls (GB Youth)
19. G. Gimson (GB Youth)
20. S. Cook (VC Etoile).
Paul Curran has recaptured the lead in the Star Trophy competition and after five races leads his Manchester Wheelers team-mate, Darryl Webster by three points.
1. Paul Curran (Manchester Wh.Trumanns) 54
2. D. Webster (Manchester Wh) 51
3. S. Coles (Coldra RC) 16
4. P. Longbottom (Manchester Wh) 16
5. S. Farrell (GS Strada) 15
6. G. Platts (Charnwood CRC) 14
7. C. Young (Paragon RT) 13
8. G. Baker (Anglia Sport) 12
9. D. Spencer (Paragon RT) 11
10. R. Holden (Manchester Wh) 9
11. N. Bishop (Manchester Wh) 9
12. K. Smith (Paragon RT) 9
REPORT DENNIS DONOVAN PICTURESSTEWART CLARKE